Ripken Stadium events for 2018 in limbo, but IronBirds are staying put for long haul, spokesperson says

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Despite the current impasse over how non-baseball events at Aberdeen’s Ripken Stadium will be managed – and the uncertainty about who will own the facility in the future — the team that plays there, the Aberdeen Ironbirds, will be staying put.

“Aberdeen is home and we have no intention of allowing short-sightedness push us to leave our hometown,” said John Maroon, a spokesperson for the group, headed by Cal Ripken Jr. and Bill Ripken, that owns the Aberdeen IronBirds Class A short season team that plays in the stadium.

The City of Aberdeen and the Ripken brothers, majority owners of Tufton Professional Baseball LLC, have been locked in discussions for more than a year over who will manage future non-baseball events at the stadium.

An impasse between the two sides has led the city’s mayor and a majority of the City Council to look elsewhere for a national events company to handle management and to begin shopping the city-owned stadium for a possible sale. Aberdeen Mayor Patrick McGrady re-affirmed both intentions earlier this month.

The IronBirds have a lease through the end of 2022 and a renewal option that extends the lease an additional 20 years beyond that, Maroon said.

“The mayor can do what he sees fit with regard to an attempted sale of the ballpark. Our fans and the local community can rest-assured knowing though that, regardless of who owns the stadium, the IronBirds intend to remain in Harford County for the long-term,” Maroon said.

Meanwhile, the current stadium management agreement between the city and Tufton might not be dead yet.

Without a resolution as to how non-baseball events at Ripken Stadium would be handled in 2018, few events have been booked as 2017 comes to an end, Maroon said.

As a result, the revenue typically generated by the stadium will be significantly less, he warned.

Tufton signed a one-year lease extension with the city last year to continue booking and managing all non-baseball events, with the city receiving a rental payment increase to $95,000, from $60,000.

The year-long extension was to give the city time to explore long-term options for managing non-baseball events. After the city and Tufton couldn’t agree on a way forward together, however, it was assumed management of events other than baseball would be taken over by the city when the one-year extension expires Dec. 31.

Last week, however, according to Maroon, Aberdeen officials asked Tufton to continue running events in 2018 and to again pay the $95,000 annual fee.

Because of the uncertainty as to whom would manage the stadium in 2018 and under orders from the city, Tufton has booked few events for the next year, Maroon said.

About 100 non-baseball events typically are scheduled at the stadium each year generating about $250,000 in revenue, he said.

In considering if it would continue management of the stadium next year, Tufton told the city it would not be able to pay the license fee because of the lack of events scheduled, according to Maroon.

Instead, Maroon said last week, Tufton offered to pay the city 10 percent of gross event rental revenues, “with the hope that in mutual partnership, if Tufton did well, the city could do well.”

City officials said they would need more time to consider the proposal, Maroon said. As of late Tuesday, Tufton had not heard back from the city of Aberdeen.

“We’re still hopeful the city will accept our proposal,” Maroon said. “We’re not fully sure of what the city’s agenda is at this point, however, they do apparently need more time to plot a decision for the upcoming year, which begins in six weeks.”

The prolonged dispute over the last 18 months has led to “misperceptions in the community,” Cal Ripken Jr. said last month. Local business people have urged the city to reconsider the sale of the stadium, saying it could force the Ripkens to leave.

The city’s most famous family, however, has no intention of going anywhere, they say.

The Ripkens operate their youth baseball programs, the Ripken Experience, in three locations.

“We are always interested in expanding that model. That doesn’t mean a move out of Aberdeen,” Maroon said. “We want to stress that the community has always been so supportive. These issues are raised by an elected official, not the people of Aberdeen.”

During the 2017 baseball season, Maroon said, Aberdeen area residents purchased more IronBirds tickets than residents of any ZIP code; 10,931 tickets were purchased by residents in the 21001 ZIP code, he said.

The city receives 10 percent of most IronBirds ticket sales through its admissions and amusements tax. The baseball team plays 38 regular season home games at the stadium.

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